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Washington, D.C. Mayor Plans Wide Release of Police Body Camera Video
Police Body Cameras Create Privacy Concerns
D.C.’s mayor is setting the District of Columbia up for possible legal disputes that pit privacy against government accountability under a plan she announced in August 2015 to make more police body camera video available publicly.
Washington, D.C. would make more police body camera available for public viewing than any other city nationwide under the plan, according to a report in The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net)
However, the city is likely to incur millions of dollars in new expenses in fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests from persons who want to see the video.
Mayor Muriel Bowser originally planned to block the video from the public when the city embarked on a project last year to place 2,000 of the body cameras on police officers. She said privacy and the risk residents would be reluctant to call police if they might be filmed meant the video should not be made public.
She changed her mind as a result of recent high-profile police shootings.
Nationally, we have all seen too many instances where video footage proved to be invaluable, Bowser said in a statement. That’s why we are committed to providing every patrol officer with a camera.
Bowser’s plan for deciding when the video could be released is based on case law rulings that define places where people have a reasonable expectation privacy.
In essence, they have few rights of privacy in public places. They have greater privacy rights in their homes or workplaces.
Anyone who interacts with police on sidewalks, their vehicles or other public places could view the body camera recordings at a police station within 90 days. Video involving sexual assault or domestic violence would be shielded from public viewing even if it was filmed in a public place.
Prosecutors, police internal affairs personnel and city auditors would get access to the video for investigations and court evidence.
Still unresolved in Bowser’s proposal is how much of the video would have the audio muted to avoid releasing personal identification information.
Also unresolved is the extent to which Bowser’s plan will force courts to more closely define a reasonable expectation of privacy.